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Hampshire oasis corrals camel herd
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POINTS — Camel sightings along Jersey Mountain Road decreased last week, but only because the herd moved to a more distant pasture. The herd of 35 camels is here in Hampshire County to stay.

They are Arabian or dromedary (single-humped) camels, native to Africa and the Near East, but seem to have made themselves at home after arriving here in December.

Though they are desert creatures, they were moved here from Michigan, sold by an owner who was retiring and moving to California.

Camels, or their near ancestors, were once native to North America, but they vanished thousands of years ago, hunted to extinction.

There were some unsuccessful efforts to reintroduce them in the Civil War era, including the 43rd Mississippi Infantry’s use of Douglas the Camel to transport the instruments of the regimental band (until he was shot by a sniper in the Battle of Vicksburg), and the U. S. Army’s short-lived (1856-66) Camel Corps.

Today, most camels found outside of zoos are dairy animals, including the camel herd on Jersey Mountain Road.

The camels live on a farm in Points that is owned by an Amish family who moved here from Lancaster County 2 years ago, one of several Amish families who have settled in the area.

They do not own the camels, but participate in a business arrangement in which they are responsible for tending the camels, including doing the milking and shipping the milk to customers.

Their 10 milking camels are milked twice a day, at 5:15 a.m. and 5:15 p.m. The milking is done by machine, and the milk (a total of about 100 pints a day) is bottled in pint containers.

The other 25 camels include some that are “taking a break” from lactating, some babies and some not old enough for milking yet.

There are also some young males available for sale. Camels are said to be intelligent and affectionate and make good pets.

Like most camel milk sold in the U.S., the milk is not pasteurized. They explain that pasteurization kills beneficial bacteria along with the bad, and destroys enzymes and other beneficial compounds found in the milk.

They describe the milk as sweeter and saltier than cow’s milk, possibly because it is more concentrated. A camel gives less milk than a dairy cow.

The milk is sold to customers who believe in the medicinal value of food, many of them interested in alternative medicine. The farmers have been told it is helpful to children with autism.

A discussion of the benefits of camel milk on the Healthline website cites medical research supporting this, and several other reasons for drinking it as well.

Studies have found it lowers blood sugar and increases insulin sensitivity in diabetics, contains disease-fighting compounds and antioxidants, and may be helpful with such neurodegenerative diseases as Parkinson’s and Alzheimer’s.

Milk from the farm in Points is sold on the Camel Milk Association website (camelmilkassociation.org). The orders are forwarded to the farm, and they use FedEx to send the milk directly to customers.

The milk is unpasteurized, so purchases first require a 1-time payment to buy a share of the herd. Selling unpasteurized milk is illegal — but the milk can be legally given to the owner of the camel.

There are herd shares currently available, according to the Camel Milk Association website. (When they run out of available herd shares, the association maintains a waiting list.)

Once a herd share is purchased (current cost: $60), the customer pays a fee to compensate for “care, equipment depreciation, maintenance and feed.” Currently the Camel Milk Association is charging $10 a pint.

Camel milk is not cheap, perhaps because camels themselves are not cheap, and they do not give a lot of milk. Healthline reports the FDA limits imports of camel milk, which also helps drive up the price.

The family tending the camels entered into the agreement to help pay off their 100-acre farm, where they also raise beef cattle and chickens — and at present a litter of puppies.

They are finding camels have other benefits too. Camels are like goats in their eating habits, and would rather eat bushes and trees than grass.

The camel herd has been doing a good job in their pastures, clearing trees and briars.

They understand that people are curious about the camels, and do not really mind people stopping by. However, it is a working farm, and visits take the farmer and his wife away from work that must be done.

If it becomes a problem, they are considering asking for contributions to compensate for their time.

Covid cases surpass 2,000
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A sudden surge in Covid-19 cases has pushed Hampshire County past an unwanted milestone.

As of Tuesday morning, 2,001 Hampshire County residents have tested positive for the virus — 1 in every 8 people here.

The uptick mirrors the state, which saw cases increase 350% from early July to this Monday, going from 882 on July 9 to 4,010.

“As we get back to school, football games, state fairs — all that stuff — do you not think that this thing is not going to rear its ugly head even more so than it is now?” Gov. Jim Justice said Monday.

Justice continued to push for more people to be vaccinated.

“You’re taking one hell of a risk if you’re not vaccinated,” he said.

About 57% of state residents ages 12 and up are fully vaccinated, while about 69% have received one dose.

Hampshire County lags well behind the state average. As of Tuesday, 37.5% had received their 1st dose of vaccine and 40.9% were fully vaccinated.

On Monday the County Health Department reported 19 new cases in the last week, with 13 of them active. That comes less than a month after Hampshire went a full week without any new cases for the 1st time since the pandemic began.

The outbreak put the county into Gold status on the state’s 5-color tracking map. The infection rate here is 10.65 cases per 100,000 population.

The positivity rate — the percentage of total tests that indicate the virus — is worse, in the orange status range of 7.20%.

Some 234 county residents were tested for the virus in the week ending Tuesday.

Over the course of the pandemic, 26,584 Covid-19 tests have been administered to Hampshire County residents, meaning some of the 23,175 people who live here have been tested more than once.

The county’s death toll from the virus remains at 37 since the pandemic hit in March a year ago.

Both the state and Hampshire County appear to be avoiding the Delta variant that has struck so many parts of the country.

Total cases of the Delta variant statewide remained steady at 129 Monday, but the number of people hospitalized from the virus Friday, the latest day available, was at 217, the most since late May. Hospitalizations during the coronavirus pandemic peaked at 818 on Jan. 5.

Hampshire County has had only 1 confirmed case of the Delta variant.

With the start of school approaching, Justice is saying he doesn’t want to reimpose a mandate for masks to be worn indoors.

State School Superintendent Clayton Burch said over the weekend that mask decisions will be left to the individual counties.

School starts here on Aug. 23. Classes begin Monday in Kanawha County, the state’s largest.

‘Prepared to pivot’
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School officials practice flexibility as the 1st day of class approaches

Teachers will need to be flexible. The school board will need to be flexible. Students will need to be flexible.

Hampshire County itself will need to be flexible, and the back-to-school guidance from the state only cemented that fact. 

A few things are for certain right now: Hampshire County will be returning to the “normal” 5-day, in-person school week when school begins Aug. 23, Superintendent Jeff Pancione maintained, with a return to “pre-Covid” virtual options (the virtual option only available for select electives, AP courses without a certified instructor on hand or courses not available here).

“Our students learn and are more successful in a classroom environment with an in-person instructor,” he said.

Additionally, the school system here is now fully-staffed with social workers to help address the social, mental and emotional needs of students who might be experiencing anxiety with the transition back to in-person school.

One of the top questions concerning having the students back in the classrooms is about ­– you guessed it – masking up.

At a press conference last week, state superintendent Clayton Burch passed the responsibility of the mask versus no mask decision to county officials, saying, “Be prepared to pivot. If you feel you need it, wear a mask.”

Pancione revealed the county’s current mask situation at Thursday’s board meeting.

“Face covers will be recommended but not required for all individuals inside a Hampshire County school building and outside on school property where social distance cannot be maintained,” Pancione explained. “Especially for our unvaccinated staff and students. Mask requirements and other safety requirements will remain fluid and monitored.”

Of course, the term “flexibility” pops up again here, because as the school year goes on, guidance from the state might require a little pivoting on the school board’s part.

“We may have to make tough decisions, or we may be directed from local, state and national (officials) to make those decisions,” Pancione warned, but added that the schools will continue to work closely with the health department to make sure the students and staff are as safe as possible.

Last week, Burch also revealed West Virginia’s full back to school “recovery” guidance, detailing what this back to school season will entail, including continuation of the 6 Covid-19 mitigation strategies that were implemented last school year: rigorous cleaning and disinfection, hand hygiene and coughing/sneezing etiquette, evaluating large gatherings outside of the classroom (assemblies, etc.), social distancing, face coverings where appropriate and contact tracing.

And, of course, the 2021-22 school year has an additional mitigation strategy: the vaccine, which Burch called the “most important” mitigation strategy.

Students and staff who are unvaccinated will need to quarantine for up to 14 days if they’ve been in close contact with a person who tested positive for the virus.

Vaccinated folks will not have to quarantine, as long as they remain symptom-free.  Board vice president Ed Morgan added that the schools are not “strong-arming” anyone into doing anything. The safety of students is the utmost priority.

“We are all adults,” Morgan said. “and we have children in our charge.”

Board member Dee Dee Rinker added, “We always have to consider their safety first.”

Solar farm to go close to U.S. 50
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ROMNEY — The 80-acre Capon Bridge Solar Farm planned for Ford Hill Road will be located much closer to U.S. 50 than previously reported.

Galehead Development representatives Jesse Pollard and Ben Metcalf presented more information on the project last Wednesday at the quarterly meeting of the Hampshire County Infrastructure Committee.

The solar array will occupy 80 acres of a 235-acre property stretching across Ford Hill Road, about half a mile south of Route 50. The portion east of Ford Hill Road borders on the Hampshire County Fairgrounds to the north.

Galehead Development’s map of the planned installation indicates solar panels will be erected on both sides of the road.

Described by the presenters as the Beery Farmstead, the property is now owned by the Hampshire Investment Group LLC, a group organized by Charles S. Hockensmith and Lois M. Groves 7 years ago.

Metcalf explained that Galehead still refers to the planned installation as the Capon Bridge Solar Farm, despite its Augusta location, because the project was originally planned for Capon Bridge. When they found using Capon Bridge’s local substation to transfer power to the grid would not be cost-effective, they sought a new location for the project.

Galehead will be making an investment of approximately $17 million in the solar farm, with construction starting as early as next spring and finishing by the end of 2022. Construction should provide approximately 23 local and 45 statewide jobs.

Photos included in the presentation showed Galehead’s solar installations are easily concealed from view by vegetation. The panels will not be over 12 feet long, mounted in an array that should not exceed 15 feet in height.

The power produced will be supplied to Potomac Edison, and should be sufficient to power approximately 3,400 households annually. It will be a long-term commitment, since the panels degrade at a rate of one-half of 1 percent a year.

In return for locating the solar farm here, Galehead Development will make a series of payments to the county.

Using the agreement Galehead made with Berkeley County for the Bedington Energy Facility as one possible model, Pollard pointed out the payments would allow the county commission to support community development projects around the county.

The Capon Bridge Solar Farm will be just 1/5 the size of the Bedington facility — but if Hampshire County received just 1/5 of the payments made to Berkeley County, the county commission would get a $90,000 payment up front.

In Berkeley County, the upfront payment was followed by annual payments of $1,850 per megawatt for 15 years. After the end of the 15-year period, the county would still be able to collect property taxes and personal property taxes on the equipment.

Exactly what Hampshire County will receive for its 20-megawatt facility must be negotiated with the Hampshire County Commission.

Commissioner Dave Cannon, the only commissioner present, asked when Galehead planned to appear before the commission. Hampshire County Development Authority Executive Secretary Eileen Johnson, who chairs infrastructure committee meetings, suggested organizing a roundtable discussion with partners involved first.

Hero’s walk
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9/11 trek winds through Hampshire County

Frank Siller, CEO of the Tunnels to Towers Foundation, is walking 537 miles from the Pentagon to the Flight 93 crash site outside Shanksville, Pa., to Ground Zero to honor the 1st responders who gave their lives on Sept. 11, 2001, so others could live.

His younger brother, Stephen Siller, was one of the New York firefighters who lost his life that day at the World Trade Center. The foundation was named Tunnels to Towers because when Stephen Siller, an off-duty firefighter, responded to the crisis, he couldn’t get through on the streets, so he donned his gear and worked his way to the Twin Towers through the tunnels beneath.

Tuesday, Frank Siller was walking through Hampshire County en route from Winchester to Cumberland, where he arrives today (Wednesday, Aug. 14).

“This year marks the 20th anniversary of my brother and many of his fellow 1st responders making the ultimate sacrifice while helping those in need,” Siller said in a media release. “Through the Never Forget Walk we’ll unite communities from Washington, D.C., to New York City and everywhere in between in honor of the heroes we lost on 9/11.”

The Tunnels to Towers Foundation provides 1st responders and the families they left behind with mortgage-free homes.

Siller began the walk Aug. 1 with a wreath laying at the Pentagon. Last Saturday Winchester honored him and the 9/11 heroes with a parade and a barbecue.

The walk hits Shanksville on Aug. 21 and then winds through Easton, Pa., and Morristown, N.J., before arriving on Staten Island Sept. 9.

From Romney to Romney
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Indiana couple makes pilgrimage to the Mountain State

There’s 1 gas station. There’s a Dollar General. There’s an auto parts store.

There’s also Jim Inskeep and his wife Janet, who, just this week, made their 1st-ever pilgrimage south to our very own Romney, bringing history, family memories and curiosity to this small mountain town.

In 1995, Romney’s Dan Oates was traveling to Indianapolis, and, curious, he stopped while en route in Romney, Ind. There, he met Mr. and Mrs. Inskeep, Jim Inskeep’s parents.

Oates discovered that the Inskeep family had ties to Romney, W.Va., and now, 26 years later, Jim and Janet have made their way to the Mountain State to learn a little more about their West Virginia relatives.

“For years, we’ve wanted to do this,” Janet explained.

“It’s the 1st time any of us (Inskeeps) have been here,” added Jim.

Jim described their little hometown, which has a population of no more than 900 people.

“You step out your back door, and you just see miles that way,” he said. “You go out the front door, and you just see miles that way, too.”

Janet added, “I was just surprised to see all of these hills, and these beautiful homes. It’s really neat to see.”

Jim reminisced about how his parents felt when Oates’ article was initially published over 2 decades ago, mentioning that his parents were “proud” to be published in the Hampshire Review.

“Mom was tickled to death to have that article in the paper,” Jim said. “Mom always wanted to come down here, but she had leukemia and she never got to come to Romney.”

Jim has a clipping of the ’95 article about his late parents (“They were wonderful people,” he said.), and he says it’s incredibly important to his family.

“The nieces and nephews, they want the article,” he chuckled. “I keep saying, ‘Not ‘til your Uncle Jim dies.’”

Janet said they’ve had a fun trip so far, and hope to meet with a distant relative here to learn more about the Romney, W.Va. Inskeeps.

“There’s just so much history here,” Janet said. “This is such a neat town.”